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Useful facts on pollen allergy (pollenallergi)

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What is pollen?

Pollen grains are tiny particles, which are released into the air and spread by the wind in order to pollinate plants of the same species. The pollen types of greatest significance in pollen allergy in Norway come from the tree species alder, hazel and birch. Other producers of pollen include wormwood and all grass species, particularly Timothy-grass (timotei) and orchard grass. In addition are the pollens from Salix (goat willow, osage orange and willow) and mugwort.

Mould spores in high concentrations can give rise to the same symptoms as pollen. 

Pollen allergy occurs where individuals react allergically to certain proteins found in some pollen types. Technically, pollen allergy is termed ”seasonal allergic rhinitis”; the common everyday term is “hay fever”.

We come into contact with pollen by breathing it in through the airways. It also becomes attached to the skin, hair and eyes. For most people this is unproblematic, however, in an allergic individual, the immune system is activated and an inflammatory response occurs in the nose and/or eyes.

Who gets pollen allergy?

Pollen allergy occurs most commonly in the age group 5-40 years and it appears that men and women are equally affected.

Prevalence of pollen allergy

We estimate that over 20 % of the population suffer to a greater or lesser extent from pollen allergy - approximately 1 million Norwegians.

According to figures from GA2LEN (Global Allergy and Asthma European Network), the incidence of pollen allergy among younger school-age children is 10-20% and 15-30% in teenagers.

In persons that have asthma, approx. 80% also have a form of pollen allergy, and approx. 15-30% of those allergic to pollen have asthma.

Where is pollen found?

Pollen is present in large quantities in the outside air at certain times of the year. During the spring, pollen comes from trees and during the summer the most common sources of pollen are grass and wormwood. In general there is less pollen in coastal and mountain areas.

Grass and wormwood pollen spread over shorter distances - a few hundred metres - in contrast to tree pollen which can spread for miles. This applies in particular to birch pollen which, for example, in stable, south-easterly winds can spread from parts of southern Finland or the Baltic all the way to Northern Norway.

The officially published pollen warning provides updates every weekday throughout the summer and provides information in respect of where in Norway it is the season for the various pollen types most relevant in relation to allergy. For example, the birch pollen season in Oslo has passed before it commences in Tromsø.

(See www.naaf.no/pollen and www.pollenvarslingen.no)

What are the symptoms of pollen allergy?

Symptoms of pollen allergy include runny, blocked nose and sneezing. The eyes stream, itch, redden and become puffy. Sufferers increasingly breathe through the mouth and so the air going down into the lungs is not warmed up, humidified and cleansed of particles, for example pollen.

This can trigger or exacerbate asthma. Many experience that they become tired and they struggle with reduced ability to concentrate or study. This leads to poorer performance in relation to school, studies, work and family or recreational activities.

Many of those with pollen allergy can experience cross-reactions – see Facts about cross-reactions

How is a diagnosis of pollen allergy made?

You can be skin prick tested by a doctor specialising in allergies in order to establish whether you react to pollen, house dust, mould, particles from animals, etc. A small drop containing an allergen substance, e.g. a pollen solution, is placed on the skin. A small hole is made in the skin through this drop. A white, itchy blister after 15 minutes indicates that you can be allergic to the allergen type in the test.

It is important not to use allergy tablets for seven days preceding the test.

Allergy tests involving blood tests can also establish the presence of pollen allergy.

Treatment of pollen allergy

The primary goal in all allergy treatment is to try to avoid the substance to which one is intolerant.

A number of medicines used in treatment of pollen allergy are available. Treatment may take the form of a nasal spray, eye drops, allergy tablets, inhaled medications or injections. Allergy medications, with the exception of allergy vaccinations (see Facts about allergy vaccinations) are not a cure, but can reduce discomfort. The aim of the treatment is to be as well as possible, using the least amount of medicines.

Your doctor will help you in choosing which medicine is best for you. It is important to understand that the allergy medicines are preventive. They must be used regularly every day throughout the pollen season, even where the symptoms disappear on individual days where the pollen count is low.

It is important to understand that the symptoms may be significantly exacerbated by irritants such as tobacco smoke, exhaust fumes, dust, perfume and strong fragrances, wind, temperature fluctuations, infection, emotional and hormonal factors.

Measures/good advice in pollen allergy

  • Take antihistamines according to the doctor’s prescription approximately 1 week before any anticipated exposure to pollen.
  • Medicines must be taken regularly and preventively, even if on certain days you have no or few problems.
  • School pupils and students with pollen allergy may request (in good time) to have their exam period extended. A recent medical certificate must be obtained.
  • If you have asthma, you must use the treatment schedule that the doctor has given you for increasing the dosage of asthma medicines.
  • In the pollen season individuals easily become hypersensitive to other allergens and irritants. Be careful in respect of hygiene, strong smells, tobacco smoke etc.
  • Avoid airing the house when pollen release is at its greatest, i.e. between mornings until after mid-day.
  • Do not dry clothes outside in the middle of the day. The pollen grains attach easily to clothing.
  • Pollen grains also attach themselves to both clothing and hair. Wash/rinse your hair before bedtime.
  • Be careful when taking part in physical activity at times when pollen spread is at a high level.
  • If you have a heat pump, use the cooling function on hot summer days. You can then close windows and the ingress of pollen is minimised.
  • Remember that filters in ventilation systems in houses and vehicles must be replaced/cleaned regularly.
  • Take holidays at a time in the summer when there is little pollen in the air, or travel to places with less blooming. High up in the mountains or on the coast there is generally less pollen than other places.
  • Use www.pollenvarslingen.no. You can define which pollen types and areas you wish to be informed of.